THE professional boxing record of World Boxing Association (WBA) featherweight champion Simpiwe Vetyeka shows that he has defeated only one adversary worthy of note. Then again, the only recognizable foe he defeated just happens to be the boxer who set the record for the second-most number of successful defenses in the history of the 126-pound division.
In December 2013, Vetyeka shocked the boxing world when he blasted into smithereens Indonesian Chris John. Heading to the fight, John had reigned for a decade, made 18 successful defenses (second to the 19 successful defenses set by Panama’s Eusebio Pedroza) and gone undefeated in 51 fights (48 wins, 3 draws). Vetyeka, however, battered John to a pulp and forced him to quit at the end of the sixth round. With the victory, Vetyeka became the first African to win a WBA title since June 1993, when Dingaan Thobela defeated American Tony Lopez for the WBA lightweight diadem.
Despite posting one of the biggest wins by a South African fighter, Vetyeka returned home to an ice-cold reception. Not a few thought Vetyeka defeated a fossil in John, who barely eked out a draw against Satoshi Hosono of Japan before he squared off with the South African. Still, there were sportswriters in South Africa who opined that the country was still reeling from the death of former President Nelson Mandela and was in no mood to celebrate Vetyeka’s upset win.
Vetyeka is looking to finally convince the critics when he makes his first defense of the WBA title against Filipino Nonito Donaire Jr. this weekend in Macau. Just how serious is Vetyeka for the fight? The 33-year-old champ left behind his newly-wed wife Thani to fully concentrate on the task of beating Donaire Jr.
Throughout his career, Vetyeka, 26-2 with 16 knockouts, has been battling for respect and recognition. He grew up in Duncan Village, an old town in East London, Eastern Cape where almost everybody knew how to box. Vetyeka turned pro in 2002 and within three years captured the South African bantamweight (118 pounds) title. In May 2007, Vetyeka fought Hozumi Hasegawa of Japan for the World Boxing Council bantamweight crown but dropped a 12-round unanimous decision.
Vetyeka won his next five fights after losing to Hasegawa but became so frustrated with the way his career was progressing that he did not fight in 2010. When he returned to the ring in February 2011, Vetyeka groped for form. After losing an eight-round decision to countryman Klaas Mboyane in June 2012, Vetyeka seriously considered retirement. Fortunately, Vetyeka was convinced by his manager Andile Sidinile to hang around until the John fight.
As can be deduced, the win over John has made Vetyeka a more confident fighter. The WBA champ is a lanky boxer-puncher who is never shy to mix it up. Vetyeka has a decent left jab, but he also has a tendency to lean forward with his head dangling after throwing the same, making him susceptible to a counter left hook from Donaire Jr. Vetyeka’s best punch is a wicked overhand right, but he is slow to get on defense once he misses with the punch. It will serve Donaire Jr. well to exhibit patience and judicious counterpunching in the fight.
While Donaire Jr. is the favorite, he is far from being a lock to beat Vetyeka. The ‘Filipino Flash’ has been sloppy in his last few fights, getting outboxed by Guillermo Rigondeux and struggling before scoring a come-from-behind knockout win over Vic Darchinyan. Donaire, however, appears to have re-dedicated himself to the sport. He has reunited with his father/trainer Donaire Sr. and has been feverishly sweating it out in the gym. Conditioning will play a role for Donaire as he remains untested at 126 pounds.
A devout Christian, Vetyeka does not smoke, drink or party. Still living in a humble abode with just enough money to get by, the WBA champ cannot wait to hit paydirt. He honestly feels that a win over Donaire Jr. will elevate him to a higher tax bracket.